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Thesis Defense - Blauvelt

MachineShop: A Design Environment for Supporting Children's Construction of Mechanical Reasoning and Spatial Cognition
Computer Science PhD Candidate

The creative impulse in the human species is nowhere more evident than in children. From an early age they draw, paint, mold, paste, and build a dizzying array of physical objects to both establish their place within societal groups and please and amuse themselves. But this activity is also critical to the cognitive development of the child. From the ages of roughly seven to twelve, children are busy learning to reason logically and to organize thoughts coherently. Piaget calls this the concrete operational stage, where the child has learned to use symbols (such as language) but is unable yet to reason abstractly. In this stage children begin to truly understand how the world works, and to integrate this information into the knowledge stores that they are building. This stage is concrete because this knowledge construction occurs through the manipulation of physical objects in the world, including their creation.

In this work I describe a computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) system called MachineShop that was created to assist middle school-aged children in the design and construction of mechanical automata. MachineShop is a software design tool for machine components such as cams and gears that leverages the power of computer controlled fabrication tools like laser cutters to allow children to design mechanisms they are not yet capable of building by more traditional means. The work also details case studies of six middle school students who used MachineShop as part of a research program that sought to evaluate the effects that designing and constructing automata had on their spatial cognition and mechanical reasoning abilities.

Committee: Michael Eisenberg, Associate Professor (Chair)
Clayton Lewis, Professor
Andee Rubin, TERC
Gary McClelland, Department of Psychology
Steven Guberman, School of Education
Department of Computer Science
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0430 USA
May 5, 2012 (14:20)